What is a Reference List Citation?

Let’s begin by discussing what a reference list is. A reference list is an alphabetized list located on a separate page at the end of your paper that lists all the reference citations for the sources used in your paper to support your research.

Each reference citation includes key elements referred to as the Four W’s:

Author Date Title Source Location
Who? When? What? Where?
Writer with a long black ponytail wears a green collared shirt with a shining lightbulb above their head symbolizing having an idea. The writer is typing on a red typewriter in a teal coloured room with a brown bookcase filled with books and a globe. Twelve images of each month of the year, each with a different coloured banner showing the month and a white space where the dates would be shown. The images are organized in month order and in a 4 by 3 months rectangle grid pattern. Image of a stack of fiction and non-fiction books ordered from largest to smallest book size of varying colours and format. An image of a mouse cursor hovering over zoomed in web browser address bar showing the beginning of web address https://www.

Asking these 4 questions helps identify the key elements needed for a reference list citation.

You’re not expected to memorize APA guidelines. Instead, use available resources (APA Quickguide and this tutorial) to help guide you. Over time you will become more comfortable with creating citations yourself.

Coloured illustration with a pink background of cooked pancake stack with strawberries, blueberries, and maple syrup surrounded by all the ingredients that make up the recipe: flour, salt, blueberry, baking powder, sugar, butter, milk, egg, strawberry, and maple syrup.


Using APA resources to help create a reference citation is like using a recipe. The ingredients are the key pieces of information about a source (4Ws). If you’re missing an ingredient, leave it out or substitute it.

Following a recipe’s directions is like following a citation example. If you follow the directions and add the ingredients at the right point, then your recipe (i.e. your citation) will turn out!




Image Attributions:

stack-of-food-books-2” by Cannelle is licensed under CC BY 4.0 International.

512px-Internet2” by Fabio Lanari is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 International.

Pancake recipe with ingredients Free Vector” by pikisuperstar is licensed under CC BY 4.0 International.


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APA Style Citation Tutorial Copyright © 2020 by University of Alberta Library is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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